An Extraordinary Man

We recently lost my Dad and I had planned to write something myself, but there is a house to build, a garden to tend and long Montana days to fill with work.  I think Dad would understand, as he was a doer all his life.  For those who were unable to attend the service I’ve decided to post a copy of the eulogy written and delivered by my oldest brother, Dana.  He did an amazing job hitting the high points of 83 years and summing them up in about 15 minutes.  Does not say all that Dad was, but does a pretty good job of giving us a glimpse into the life of this extraordinary man.  The eulogy document is followed by a poem written and read at the service by our niece Betsy.  We are blessed with many great writers in our family!

When the days shorten, the leaves fall and I have time to gather my thoughts without being reduced to tears, I will come back and write my own version of a tribute.  Until then, enjoy Dana’s words.  My heart is breaking, my eyes are leaking, and I miss you more than words can ever say.  I love you, Dad.  It will take the rest of my own lifetime to realize all the gifts you gave me.

Alan Austin Netz

02/17/1932 to 04/19/2015

Alan Austin Netz was born on Feb 17th, 1932 to Roscoe and Olive Netz in the back of acar between Questa and Taos, New Mexico. They had been en-route to the hospital when the car got mired in snow and mud. Roscoe went for help and Dad was born before he returned.

Growing up in the woods of northern New Mexico Dad learned to love the outdoors.When not doing chores for the family he would hike, hunt and fish (the latter  a fish hook into the cheek of his sister.) He told me one time about when he and a friend were going to go gold mining in the mountains above Questa.

Dad attended school in Los Alamos New Mexico but was frustrated with classes. He dropped out of high school at age 15 and he, with two friends, set out to seek their fortune in the Northwest. In the meantime, World War 2 had ended and jobs were scarce for grown men, much less for three inexperienced teenagers. Dad told us stories of this time (for those who didn’t know him, Dad told lots of stories).

One night they went to the local dance. When the young ladies found out that there were new boys in town they wouldn’t even let them sit down, dancing with them until they couldn’t stand any more.

In Goldendale Washington they decided that they might have better luck by each looking for work individually. Dad went to the local car and tractor dealership where the owner asked him to disc the local racetrack. “Ever use a disc before?” the fellow asked. “Cut my teeth on them, “Dad replied, although he’d never used one before. The owner pointed to a new tractor and mentioned that the implements were out back.

Dad hooked up something that looked like a disc and headed for the racetrack. Being a teenage he figured that a smart fellow like himself could do a two-hour job in one hour so he began driving around the track as fast as the tractor would go. He started to notice, however, that each pass was throwing the dirt up and out of the track and after several passes he had quite a trench established with a large mound to the outside. He figured that he could fix this by driving the other direction so he turned the tractor around. In doing so he tangled the tractor in a chain link fence and by the time he had finished he’d pulled down about 100 feet of fencing.

By the time he got untangled it was starting to get dark so he headed back to the dealership at the highest possible speed. On the way he noticed that the wheel was wobbling a bit but he figured that a large wheel like that would be hard to balance so he figured it was okay. When he approached the dealership he swung he tractor around and the wheel flew off, crashing through the plate glass window and into two new cars. Dad then said, “And for some reason he fired me!”

What he didn’t know was that Jim Grove had talked the guy into a job and said, “have you got work for my two buddies?” So Dad was hired, fired and hired by the same guy on the same day. It worked out well, however, as the man was a great friend to the three boys and Dad corresponded with the gentleman for years later.

Discouraged, Alan and Jim decided to join the US Air Force. The service sent Alan to Maine where one fateful night he met a beauty queen named Mary McLellan and they began a relationship that lasted until his passing.

Alan and Mary were married in Maine on May 3rd, 1953. Dad said that his biggest fear of the ceremony was that someone would take a picture that would show the hole in the bottom of his shoe. They lived on the airbase in Presque Isle where I was born.

When Dad separated from the Air Force they moved to New Mexico to be near his parents. The small family began to get a bit larger when my brother, Duane, was born.

Despite having gotten his GED in the Air Force, he was frustrated by his lack of education as he took a variety of unskilled jobs near Los Alamos. He finally secured a steady job with the Sandia National Laboratories but it was shift work so he decided to attend the University of New Mexico in pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering degree.

After three years of schooling he qualified for a much better job where he worked until retirement. He started as a mathematician. In the days before electronic computers mathematicians were employed to perform long, tedious calculations. Later, when computers became more common, he became a programmer. During this time he wrote a piece of code that is part of the fundamental programming of modern microchips and that is still being used today.

He tired of talking to computers and, for a while, began to transition to doing automotive repair out of his garage. During this time he came up with the concept of “Dial a Mechanic” where people with car problems could call him for advice which he would bill them for. It never really took off but I think of now, with the Internet, that it would have been a popular feature.

His frustration at Sandia, however, was eased when he took a job as a metallurgy technician. Scientists would design an experiment and Dad would set it up. He enjoyed this work and was so successful that when he retired it took two people to replace him.

When my sister, Anne, was born the house in the Northeast Heights was suddenly too small so the folks bought a piece of land in the Sandia Mountains and had a house built.  This prompted a comment by his father along the lines of, “You’re taking this sweet girl and these little kids from a nice place in the city to the wilderness.” But Dad was in his element, here. Beginning with Pidge, my sister’s pigeon-toed horse, the house was home to other horses, cows, chickens, goats and even a sheep that he turned loose to graze in the yard before converting it to dinner.

He built a multi-bay garage where he kept his welder, lathe and other tools for his many projects. After retirement he and Mom traveled the country in their motor home, touching base in every state in the Continental US. During their touring the visited Thompson Falls where they fell in love with the community. In 2001, they opened a new chapter in their lives as they moved their home from New Mexico to a house on the Clark Fork River. Today we have filled this hall with new friends and neighbors that have been gathered in the last 14 years.

A man who had almost as much influence over my life as my dad, author Robert Heinlein, once wrote:  A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

That could have been written about Dad. If I were to come up with a single phrase to describe his life it would be “Carpe vita”, “Seize the life”. It wasn’t that he was destined for greatness, like John Kennedy was destined to become President, it was more that he found everything in life interesting and he had the intelligence and talent to pursue those interests. Anything and everything fascinated him.

For example, he wasn’t just one of the greatest auto mechanics that ever walked the earth. He also did body work, upholstery, and other aspects of auto restoration. One of his coolest projects was a 1953 Chevy round-body pickup. He replaced all of the moving parts in the front suspension and steering with new ones, rebuilt and re-upholstered the seat, refurbished the dashboard and gauges and installed a new headliner. He purchased hardwood and sent off to the factory for the original replacement hardware to rebuild the pickup bed. He then went to a junkyard and found that the engine, transmission and rear end of the 1962 Impala would fit in the truck so he rebuilt and installed those parts. Then he cleaned up the body-works and painted it a beautiful dark green. The resulting vehicle was not only highway worthy but would catch rubber in two gears.

Dad’s father was a carpenter and Dad had his talent and then some. Consider a house.  Dad could survey the land, pour a concrete foundation, build the walls, shingle the roof, plumb it for water and wire it for electricity. We always joke about the project at the Campbell house that started off with Dad and Roger sharing a case of beer and ending with a 2-bedroom addition.

He was an artist who painted pictures, whittled wood, built models and carved monkeys out of peach pits. This latter inspired my brother to make one for his wife, who loves to wear it. He built his own gun stocks out of blanks ordered from Herters, including ones for my brother and me.

Dad loved hunting and enjoyed shooting. For a while he made his own cartridges and I still have his reloading set. He had extraordinary eyesight and would often pick out critters that took everyone else a while to see. And he was one of the most deadly accurate shooters that I’ve ever seen. He said that his trick was that he and his hunting buddies, Marvin and Freddie, would go rabbit hunting with .22’s and their rule was that one couldn’t shoot at a motionless object. He once said that he had a string of 33 successful deer-hunting seasons which even spanned his time in the Air Force.

Growing up there was an antelope head over the fireplace and one day I asked him about it. He was on a hunt where he hadn’t seen any game. He stopped to rest at the top of a hill and saw a solitary animal about 800 yards away. He said, “what the heck,” aimed somewhere around Jupiter and popped a cap. To his amazement the animal dropped. Naturally, he’d hit it in the heart but he said, “Well that critter’s time was up. If the bullet missed him he would have been killed by a meteorite.”

Some of my greatest memories of my time with him were hunting trips.

He made bread and brewed beer. One day we got giggling drunk on a couple of bottles of his that had a bit higher proof that he expected.

He enjoyed cooking, especially breakfast, and I always looked forward to a batch of “Chili Eggs” on hunting trips.

He was a horse doctor who doctored more than just horses. Once he was on a pack trip in the wilderness, four days from civilization, when Marvin’s horse stumbled and rolled over him, dislocating his shoulder. Dad re-seated it there beside the trail. Another time we had a pregnant goat that came down with pneumonia. As the animal was dying Dad performed a caesarian to retrieve the unborn kids and, when they showed signs of distress, he performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on them in a vain attempt to keep them alive.

In addition to cars and airplanes, Dad had many motorcycles during his life and he passed the love of two-wheelers to all his kids. He had a war-surplus motorcycle with a reverse gear and would back the bike out of the driveway, then shift into first without putting his foot down.

Dad’s interest with mechanical devices was best expressed by his fascination with clocks.  This began, as I recall, with a “Bim-Bam” clock purchased in Madrid New Mexico. The next thing that we knew, the kitchen table was covered with gears and escapement movements. He began building his own clocks, installing commercial movements into finely crafted housings of mahogany wood. One year he built clocks for his and Mom’s parents and siblings. Two of these clocks hang on the wall of my home, keeping time to within a minute a month 50 years after they were made. His most beautiful creation was the grandmother clock that still chimes the quarter-hour in Mom’s house.

But of all of Dad’s interests I think that he loved flying the most. He bought his first airplane while in the Air Force. He had never piloted before but thought he’d like to try so he bought a used Piper Cub from a guy on base. His flying lesson consisted of the guy taking him for a trip around the airfield then jumping out after landing saying, “Enjoy your new plane.”

Dad would fly from Presque Isle to Sherman Station to visit Mom until one time he landed in a potato field. When the rows of plants ran out his airplane flipped over. He sweet-talked the owner of the farm into trading his wrecked airplane for a car.

I flew with him every chance I could get, both here and in New Mexico. Once we went on a flight in his Taylorcraft that went a bit longer than planned. We were so low on gas that we ran out just after landing and had to push the plane back to the hanger. Another time he was interrupted during pre-flight and missed the fact that he was low on gas before taking my sister up for a ride. A commercial pilot herself, Dad handed over control of the airplane with the standard, “You’ve got it!” A few minutes later, when the plane ran out of gas, Anne, a 767 pilot with thousands of hours of airtime under her belt, said, “You’ve got it!” and handed the controls back to him.

He built at least two airplanes from kits and several more from baskets of parts.

When they married, Dad’s sister told Mom, “Life with Alan will never be boring” and for more than 61 years she patiently and courageously followed him through his escapades. I can still see her driving the Dodge Dart along a muddy mountain road after a weekend of building cabins in the rain.

I try to emulate him but no one could tell a story like Dad and his life was full of stories and adventures. One glorious weekend Dad, Duane and I hiked the Pecos Wilderness with Marvin and his two sons. There were trips to Maine including one trip of a lifetime through the Rocky Mountains and across Canada.

Once, with the whole family watching, he rolled a garden tractor over backwards, jumping out of the way at the last second. Once, also with the whole family watching, he nearly impaled himself with the bail from a drilling rig, once again averting disaster at the last second.

I feel sorry for people who grew up without a father because mine was such an integral part of my daily life while growing up. He taught me how to drive a car on the snow, do long division, shoot a gun, fly and land a small airplane and countless other essential tasks of being a human.

We’re gathered here today to say good-bye to a true renaissance man who made the world a better place by his presence and a smaller place by his absence. Alan was a husband, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, neighbor and friend who never had a bad day in his life.



Memories of Grampie

by Betsy Netz

Sun’s rising, river’s glass;  A great man has come to pass.

He always felt lucky to have it all;  A life near-bursting at the seams full.

Close family, true love, hobbies, career;  Numerous adventures with those he held dear.

He didn’t need a church to tell him how to live,  What was right or how much to give.

Model neighbor, friend, family man;  Willing to help whoever he can

His love for his wife and family inspires,  Each of us to love more and aim higher.

His convictions held tight, his standards high;  He was more capable than the average guy.

Artist, engineer, pilot, mechanic too;  Author, outdoorsman and some I never knew.

When there was a story to tell, no one better could tell it;  If you needed something sold, he was the man to sell it.

When life got rough and you needed a letter,  His words of encouragement made you feel better.

I remember sitting in his lap when I was small,  Prickling his whiskers, his little Kewpie Doll.

Sweat, oil, dirt. I miss his smell.  Tough clean hands of a life lived well.

He’d hug us tight, his own way,  To tell us things he couldn’t say.

I’ll always miss my Grampie and the stories he’d tell;  I’m fortunate to have known him so well.

We celebrate a man who lived life right,  Who never had a bad day in his whole life.

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2 Responses to An Extraordinary Man

  1. Donna aka The Red Honey Bee says:

    These are both so wonderful, and it was a very beautiful service. Nel’s stories were also exceedingly wonderful. Perhaps you might print those sometime, too.

    Fo you, my dear, dear friend, yes, wait until late fall, early winter and then write your tribute which will be all the better for having fermented awhile in your thoughts. In the meantime all the hard work you must do will help you enormously through this time of grieving.

    Warmest love and prayers,

  2. Hobbit says:

    One sad thing I have noticed over the years that the anniversaries are more and more for things we’d rather not celebrate.

    … Hobbit

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